The following piece was contributed by Caroline Kupchella, a Peace Corps Volunteer currently serving as a Health Educator in Lesotho. Ms. Kupchella is originally from Minnesota, USA.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in a rural village, HIV and AIDS are topics I try and unpack with youth on a regular basis. These topics are well known across Lesotho through teaching efforts made in school lectures, health talks in the community, and stories passed down from generations. However, these methods of teaching don’t always fully engage young people or motivate them to speak up about HIV and AIDS. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am constantly looking for ways to make messages about health topics more engaging for youth. 

A Grassroot Soccer intervention takes place in Lesotho. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Kupchella.)

Grassroot Soccer is the first platform I’ve found that is able to get kids in my village excited to talk about HIV. Through kilos and key messages, these kids come alive during the practices as they shout out answers about risk factors, modes of transmission, and the biology of HIV. There is a noticeable difference between the energy they bring to classroom health talks and what they bring onto the field. The kids are able to shout out risk factors for HIV while dribbling a ball through cones, have begun to understand how risky sex with older partners is through playing the limbo and have begun to comprehend how condoms and medical male circumcision make a significant difference in HIV prevention. 

Grassroot Soccer curricula are tailored to multiple learning styles, with an aim to be inclusive of adolescents at varying levels of education. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Kupchella.)

One of their favorite activities is called “Avoid Risk”, where my Counterpart Julia Ramosweu and I watch them piece together how risks impact not only them, but the entire community. In this drill, participants dribble the ball through four cones, each labeled with different risks such as “multiple partners,” “older partners,” “unprotected sex,” and “alcohol and sex” for three rounds. In round one, we talked about how HIV will impact you as a person. During that round, if they hit the cones with the ball, they will do jumping jacks alone. In the second round, if they touch the cones, their whole team will stop to do jumping jacks to represent how HIV can affect the entire family. Finally, on the third round if the cones are touched all the players will stop and do jumping jacks to represent how HIV affects the entire community. The participants loved this activity because it was a physical representation of how great of an impact HIV can have.  

One thing that my Counterparts and I are grateful for with the GRS manuals is how comprehensive they are. Evidence-based and easy to follow, the manuals are organized in a way that includes energizers, cheers, time for reflection, and questions – all within a lesson. They are tailored to many different learning styles so we are able to be inclusive of all participants. This way, I’m able to work with both in and out of school youth without having to re-plan lessons based on different levels of education. 

Photo courtesy of Caroline Kupchella.

Another area where we have found great success is through the single-sex SKILLZ Guyz and SKILLZ Girl curricula. In these split sessions, both girls and boys have been able to dive deeper into understanding gender and what risks may affect them differently than the opposite sex. With the SKILLZ Girl curriculum, we watched as they unpacked confidence and built a safe space to talk about beauty standards among themselves and their peers. With the SKILLZ Guyz curriculum, we were able to talk about what a healthy relationship looks like and what it really means to be a man in the village. These spaces where we are able to split boys and girls and talk through gender norms have created incredible conversation amongst youth in our community. We are so grateful for Grassroot Soccer bringing energy and space to solve problems into our community!